[development] Modules that integrate non-GPL PHP apps violate the GPL.

Laura Scott laura at pingv.com
Thu Aug 30 21:04:23 UTC 2007

On Aug 30, 2007, at 8:32 AM, Jeff Eaton wrote:
> GPL software *may not derive from non-GPL components* unless the  
> copyright holders make them GPL'd as well. This is, according to  
> the GPL, to protect the GPL license from being abused by companies  
> that write proprietary software with a thing GPL'd "wrapper" that  
> is useless when not used with the pricey software.

I'm all behind this reasoning. However....

> I'll quote Brett Smith, the helpful GPL guy who spent a couple days  
> hashing this out with me.
> ----
> Perhaps you meant some kind of web services API, like a REST
> interface.  That's a little more borderline.
> There could also be other ways to construct the bridge that even more
> clearly avoid making a derivative work.  For example, if the bridge  
> didn't
> call functions from either program, and instead just read from or  
> wrote to
> their underlying databases directly, that probably wouldn't create a
> derivative work.  If there were command-line tools available that the
> bridge could call to help with its work, using system() or similar
> functionality, that probably wouldn't make a derivative work either.
> I should also point out that if CMS developers want to make this  
> sort of
> bridge development unambiguously okay, they could do so by  
> providing some
> sort of licensing exception as described at
> <http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/gpl- 
> faq.html#LinkingOverControlledInterface>.
> This requires the assent of all the copyright holders, so I realize  
> it may
> not be a feasible option for every free CMS, but it is out there.

This reasoning seems to employ arguments made by the RIAA and MPAA,  
except to opposite effect.

I write this as a GPL advocate and a big believer in open source. GPL  
open source software is greatly advantaged to dominate the software  
world eventually, but trying to force that through legal ownership  
assertions strikes me as a great way to undermine the whole movement.  
For example, this API argument: by prohibiting use of APIs to bridge  
differently-licensed applications (and aren't APIs developed  
*precisely* to bridge two different applications?) we're forcing a  
"dumbing down" of work (and sundry other potential problems and  
risks) by legally requiring the bypassing of established application  
methodologies (such as security protocols) to write direct queries to  

How are we going to build an integrated world when GPL starts  
claiming rights to all that touch it? We're going from the freedom  
that comes from building a commons to the restriction that comes from  
making that commons a fenced-in zoo.

Maybe I'm wrong and going off in high spirits for no reason. The net  
result, I fear, is the creation of a GPL ghetto where anybody with  
one foot in the proprietary -- i.e., real -- world is given reason to  
hesitate coming within a country mile of GPL, just when GPL apps are  
poised (and have already started) to transform the mainstream  
business world.

Vivek Purl wrote:

> Just for background this issue has come up because
> Joomla  have decided to "fully" comply with GPL. This
> raised a few question for SMF team and they discussed
> it with FSF. The final result of that discussion is if
> php ( or any other scripting language ) which is
> distributed in source form is bridged to a non GPL
> software also distributed in source form then it
> violates the GPL.
> The immediate effect for drupal is that VB and SMF
> bridges are violating GPL. It doesn't matter if its
> being distributed via d.o. or not.

So GPL apps are prohibited from touching non-GPL apps. I'll be snarky  
and say this is the kind of thing that happens when lawyers get  
involved. Time to stop developing software and start developing new  
licenses and lawsuits!

Laura (who's still wondering what was wrong with GPLv2)

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